The situation is precarious for the orangutan, the only “great ape”, or large primate, in Asia. The legendary “man of the forest”, from its Malay name, is facing grave threats from the loss of its rainforest habitat due to illegal logging, conversion to other uses and forest fires, hunting and climate change.
The population of the two subspecies found in Sumatra [Pongo abelii] and Kalimantan [Pongo pygmaeus] is estimated at less than 60,000 animals. The majority of the animals are in Kalimantan and about 7,300 in Sumatra [about 10 percent are found in the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak].
The Kalimantan population has declined by 50 percent in 20 years; the International Union for the Conservation of Nature [IUCN] has downgraded its status from “endangered” to “critically endangered” – only one category removed from full extinction.
One of the centers for the species’ conservation is at Camp Leakey in Tanjung Puting National Park, Central Kalimantan, which is a center of research for the Orangutan Foundation International [OFI].
The OFI recently released a number of orangutans back to the wild at Camp Seluang Mas, on the periphery of the national park, in Seruyan.
“The orangutan is a keystone species. If it becomes extinct, it would be the signal for the loss of thousands of other animal and plant species from the rainforest habitat,” said OFI founder and president Biruté Mary Galdikas, who has devoted most of her life to studying the species in Tanjung Puting.
“Conversely, the conservation of the orangutan and its habitat would save them. The one way to save the orangutan from extinction is to protect the forest.”